Nick boosts environmental impact with Nicktropolis

Online community built for kids

Nickelodeon is getting into the virtual-community business.

MTV Networks' kid-centric powerhouse is set today to launch Nicktropolis, an online environment for youngsters to chat, play games and watch video amid branded properties.

In Nicktropolis, kids can customize the appearance of an avatar with which they navigate a digital world complete with its own currency. The environment includes branded regions like Nicktoon Boulevard, where surfers can visit rooms inspired by such Nick shows as "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Danny Phantom." Avatars can interact with icons representing characters from the shows or cue up episodes for viewing.

Nicktropolis is a continuation of Nickelodeon's push in recent years into more interactive programming online. With the younger demos it targets emerging as the first generation to be as comfortable with the PC as the TV, Nick has put increasing emphasis on and successive versions of a broadband player, TurboNick.

"It takes all the pieces that have been building over the years and puts them together," said Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group.

Nicktropolis also comes loaded with multiple means of parental control, including a foul-language filter and chat capabilities that require parents' approval.

Nicktropolis is not MTVN's first foray into virtual communities. The division's Music Group already has launched two such areas centered on two hit MTV series, "Laguna Beach" and "The Hills."

Nicktropolis will launch without advertising, but it expects to incorporate marketers in myriad ways, according to Stephen Youngwood, executive vp at Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids & Family Group.

"There's clearly room for banners and more static ad units," he said. "But we're looking at other ways that fit the brand as well and maintain the integrity of the experience."